Singita's Ebony Lodge villa along the Sand River
Singita's Ebony Lodge villa along the Sand River
Image: Ross Couper

The story of Singita — much like the Shangaan word itself — is indeed something of a miracle.

Over the past 30 years, this South African-grown safari brand has evolved from a single lodge to offer a portfolio of 17 camps, lodges and exclusive-use villas across four African countries. Along the way, it has had a hand in restoring, conserving and protecting the biodiversity of close to 1-million acres of wilderness. Not bad for a company that began on what was little more than the Bailes family’s bushveld bolt-hole.

But 2024 marks something of a watershed, with the very first lodge in the portfolio — Singita Ebony, in the iconic Sabi Sand game reserve — reopening this month after a refresh that has retained the DNA of this much-loved lodge while introducing a more contemporary design language to the destination.

Key to the reimagining of this popular lodge was to create a greater sense of space and flow while retaining the innate spirit of the space. As new-build lodges increasingly look towards a minimalist and contemporary aesthetic, the focus of the Ebony refresh was to update without losing the soul of Singita’s original offering. That’s no easy feat, but nothing Singita’s long-time design partners couldn’t manage.

Cecile & Boyd have been the creative spirit behind Singita for decades, and they bring their intuitive sense of Singita style to the new-look Ebony.

At Ebony “the classic safari lodge concept is taken to the next level,” says Cecile & Boyd’s design director Geordi De Sousa Costa, highlighting the emphasis on strong, rounded Adobe-style shapes and finishes. “Every area has a balance of bold and lightweight, dense and open.”

That new sense of openness is why Georgina Pennington, group head of creative direction for Singita, refers to the reimagined lodge “a big exhale” and “a sensitive, gentle evolution to Ebony”.

Open spaces: Singita Ebony's new bedrooms boast modern touches while retaining the original DNA
Open spaces: Singita Ebony's new bedrooms boast modern touches while retaining the original DNA
Image: Supplied

Central to that evolution was a subtle transformation of the guest areas at the lodge, expanding the interplay of timber and thatch with the original Adobe-style walls, while updating the flow of the lodge to maximise views of the Sand River that flows just beyond the decks.

Singita also continues its focus on reinventing the culinary experience on safari, and now introduces its popular Deli concept to Ebony, allowing guests to pick and choose from a selection of light snacks and healthy bites throughout the day. The Wine Cellar, always a highlight of a Singita stay, has been relocated too, creating expanded seating areas with views into the lodge gardens.

Along with a new informal guest lounge — ideal for guests with younger travellers staying in one of the two Family Suites — Ebony is now also home to a thought-provoking Conservation Room, following in the footsteps of lodges in Zimbabwe and Rwanda. It means guests can now spend their hours between safari activities delving deeper into the conservation challenges facing Africa and its wildlife while discovering the impact a sustainable safari can have on conservation.

“There are wonderful different moments within the room,” adds Megan Hesse, partner and interior designer of HK Studio, which was involved in the refurbishment. “The Conservation Room is going to be core to the lodge. It’s a space where you can get as much or little as you want, and guests can choose how they want to interact with the space.”

It’s a contemporary talking point in one of South Africa’s oldest conservation regions, and that is mirrored in the new approach to décor at Ebony. Happily, the animal print that was long a signature of Ebony’s design language — across the industry, it was once a “must-have” but nowadays it’s a “please-don’t” — has been packed away, replaced by a swathe of woven linen, cotton and silks inspired by natural colours of indigo, ochre and dark chocolate to create a more soothing, contemporary feel.

While touches of the original North African elements are retained — cue the Berber rug murals and splashes of Adobe — it’s all balanced by the infusion of canvas and cotton. Likewise, the vintage chests and leather chairs of the campaign-style era are contrasted with natural tones and textures, with woven organic elements sensitively injected into the lodge to create a luxurious yet uncluttered aesthetic.

It’s a thoughtful evolution of a standard-bearer in South Africa’s luxury lodge landscape, and while repeat guests will recognise the heart and soul of the original Ebony, this clever refresh is sure to attract a new Millennial safari market with an updated design language that speaks to the needs and desires of the 21st century safari traveller. 


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